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From Collective Selection to Individual Style: A Symbolic Transfer in Fashion
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, School of Business, Marketing.
2012 (English)In: Journal of Global Fashion Marketing, ISSN 2093-2685, Vol. 3, no 1, 181-187 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The paper aims to uncover the reasons why fashion appears in terms of collective selection in a movement towards individual style in the way people dress. Here, fashion is viewed in terms of collective fashion trends and personal style. Thus, it is the clothes, dressing habits, and garments that are observed in the research. The paper shows how the theory of symbolic interactionism can be used as an analytical tool to bring transparency to the movement from collective selection towards individual style in the fashion industry. This theoretical approach, which is connected to social interaction helps avoid the classical research trap of making statements through the study of cause and effect. The analysis is made based on examples of meanings created around the garment through an observation of the process from the initial meaning the person gives to as  a symbol in social interaction, to the final stage when it becomes an individual style. There are four such phases that together create the final picture of why fashion is heading towards individual style. All these phases have different sources, and naturally provide different answers to the initial research question in this paper. Once the garment is turned into an individual style and, as customers seek more details in garments, there then occur a collapse of the “total look” towards hyper individuality.   1. The same garment may have different meanings for us depending on social interaction and symbol. When observing the same garments around the globe, they appear to have a common reality but this is not the case as these garments have different meanings.  This reality is depicted in earlier studies such as Sapir (1999) that concludes that the main difficulty in understanding fashion and its apparent extravagances is the lack of exact knowledge of the unconscious symbolism of forms, colours, materials, postures and other elements that express a given culture. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that some expressive elements tend to have different symbolic references in different contexts. It is interesting to näote that current studies in fashion are in contradiction with such logic.   2. The same garment may have the same meaning depending on social interaction and symbol. When the same garment has the same meaning, such as a police uniform, it is straightforward in communicating belongings, simply because the garment can be understood in exactly the same way by both parties. Lönnqvist (2008) is outspoken about power games in apparel communication with the assistance of garments. It is a matter of how one dresses and turns oneself out with different versions of clothing - from the warrior's fearsome armour to the sexy and suggestive underwear. Power can be manifested in different ways, and clothing is among its more visible indicators. Clothes can radiate dominance and dignity, but also a sense of ridicule and humiliation thereby destroying their initial purpose of meaning. The question that arises then is, when can those garments become fashion if by definition the latter is a matter of a desire to keep up with times and to express the tastes that are emerging in a changing world?   3. Different garments may have different meanings depending on social interaction and symbol. A communication problem arises when different garments have different meanings in fashion. This problem highlights the structure of fashion design as well as pricing in the world. There is perhaps no other business sector like fashion, in terms of the correlation between a certain design and garments with price. The price criterion cuts across market criteria in the structural segmentation of the fashion industry. According to Saviolo and Testa, (2002) there are five price categories: couture, ready-to-wear, diffusion, bridge, and mass. A garment designed on the upper level in terms of price might differ radically from the design of a garment on the mass production level.   4. Different garments may have the same meaning depending on social interaction and symbol. When different garments have the same meaning in terms of status, income levels, gender, etc. department stores and “shops-in-shop” are frequently used together with branding to introduce these different garments with the same meaning to target groups on the market. Department stores are consequently the appropriate venues created to enable the introduction of these particular garments and deal with the particular situation they engender.  Miller (1981) studied such a case in detail, focusing on Le Bon Marché in Paris. The latter refers to a large fashion department store and its place in fashion history. By allowing interactions with the society in which it is situated, and reflecting the changes that occur in that society, the department store becomes the living mirror of that society. The department store thus achieves a communicative role by using the living environment as a legitimizing justification of their very existence.  As such, the department store as a display of fashion and witness of its historical change, typifies symbolic interactionism at work.   This conceptual banter anchored in a symbolic interactionism framework that underlies this study has revealed four significant aspects that arise out of the movement from collective selection towards individual style in fashion:1) When the same garment can have different meanings, it can create individualities depending on time, place and the role of the designer. 2) When the same garment has the same meaning as in the case of uniforms, then it can be used as a manifest for power. In certain circumstances these garments can move from being a symbol of power to become a symbol to communicate fashion indicating changes in the society as whole. 3) When different garments have different meanings, the price practice becomes a communication tool towards the consumers. The subsequent brand extension habits of fashion firms through stretching, collaborating, etc. confuses consumers who responsively become more individualistic in their choice of garments including mixing brands. This situation sometimes generates a hyper personalized fashion. 4) Where different garments have the same meanings to the consumers, the place or the store achieves a significant role in the marketing communication of fashion.  

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Korean Academy of Marketing Science , 2012. Vol. 3, no 1, 181-187 p.
Keyword [en]
Fashion, Collective selection, Social interaction, Symbol, Individuak style
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-74741OAI: diva2:511668
Available from: 2012-03-22 Created: 2012-03-22 Last updated: 2012-04-20Bibliographically approved

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